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La Défense: Europe’s Largest Business District Sets a New Standard for Sustainable Development
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 00:00  |  Written by Matthew Monfuletho | Blog Entry

La Defense Arch and Business District, Paris, photo by bewilder2009From every corner of the globe, an estimated eight million visitors flock to Paris every year to marvel at world-famous architectural wonders such as Notre Dame, the Louvre museum or the Tour Eiffel [tour means tower in French. – Ed.]. Yet, few tourists extend their cultural visit to take in what is often referred to as "the world's museum of modern architecture"—La Défense, Europe's largest business district.

This Manhattan-like area in the west of Paris is divided into 12 sectors and covers an area of more than 400 acres. It is home to the city's Grande Arche and its tallest high-rise buildings, which house over 1,500 businesses and 150,000 employees.

Revival Project for La Défense
In an attempt to stay competitive with rival European cities such as London and Milan, a revival project for La Défense was begun in 2006, focusing on regenerating outdated skyscrapers, constructing new buildings, ensuring a better balance between offices and residential housing, and improving employee commutes. Completion of the area’s development is slated for 2015.

On the list of modernization priorities is a commitment from the organisation responsible for the project, Etablissement Public d’Aménagement de la Défense (EPAD), to incorporate sustainable guidelines into the design of the new buildings. The planned structures will meet the latest environmental standards put in place by the EU, resulting in energy savings and global warming reductions.

Construction green lights were given for several key 300-320 meter (980 to 1,000 ft.) ‘sustainable’ skyscrapers—such as the Tour First, Tour Phare, Tour Generali and Tour Signal—designed by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel. These architectural giants were to pave the way for greener, more sustainable design standards for building construction in the business centres throughout Europe and further afield—perhaps even New York City.

Tour First
A propos its name, the Tour First (built in 1974, green retrofitted from 2007-2011) is the first reconstructed building in France to meet the High Environmental Quality (HQE) standard. It utilizes exterior air circulation and heat from the sun to heat and cool the building. Its bioclimatique façade, made up of double-glazed windows, helps to maintain a moderate interior temperature, which will further reduce the building’s dependence on traditional heating and cooling.

Tour Phare
The Tour Phare is a planned 300-meter skyscraper designed as a green building. The curvature of the tower will allow for a bouquet of wind turbines to be installed on the roof. According to its designer, Thom Mayne, it will be "a prototype for a green building" with a wind farm generating its own heating and cooling for five months of the year.

Tour Generali
The 312-meter Tour Generali, proposed by the Generali Insurance Company and canceled in 2011, aimed to emit just 500 tons of CO2 per year, 70% less than a conventional tower. It would have recovered and recycled rainwater and was to have been equipped with 400 square meters of photovoltaic cells, 800 square meters  of solar panels and 18-axial wind turbines onsite to produce energy. Overall, it would have been 60% more energy-efficient than a conventional skyscraper.

Tour Signal
The Tour Signal, canceled in 2009, was to become the symbol of La Défense’s modernization. This 301-meter structure—through a combination of solar panels, wind turbines and mirrors integrated with windows—would not, according to Jean Nouvel, have exceeded 50 kWh per square meter of annual energy consumption.

We have created a way of life dependent on economically healthy businesses. As they continue to flourish, it is our responsibility to ensure that business practices work in concert with our attempts to improve environmental quality. The buildings built and planned for Défense provide a few examples of what could and should become the global trend in construction. One of the pillars of sustainable development is the conservation of natural resources. This, at the very least, these projects firmly aim to do.

Additonal resources:
Green Business Reading

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Comments (5)add
Written by mmonfuletho , August 28, 2009
Martin Dixon, thank you for your comment. In response to what you wrote, I believe that there is more happening in Paris and around Europe than lip service.

According to the official La Defense website (, La Defense forms one of the largest converging routes in the Paris transportation system. It includes the RER A, Metro Line 1, T2 Tram line and roughly 18 bus lines. It accommodates 400,000 travellers a day. That is compared to only about 46,000 parking spaces underneath the Esplanade.

Additionally, I wouldn’t blame the city government and the corporations for the portion of residents that continue to drive to work in an over congested city with, arguably, the best public transport system in Europe beneath their feet. This is a choice of the residents. All government and corporations can do is start the ball rolling and provide an example.

The effort in La Defense, the incorporation of the Velib and a continuing effort to make public transportation more efficient should be applauded and the favour returned. It’s not the government’s job to force people to be green, but it is their job to help us get there. At the very least, they are doing that in Paris.
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Written by Martin Dixon , August 26, 2009
And when all of these towers are finished most of the senior staff will drive to work in company subsidised vehicles and park in free car parking in the basement. This is not in my opinion a bad thing as I live in and work in Paris and enjoy precisely those same benefits, but it irks me somewhat that these corporations will try to win plaudits for their green credentials whilst ignoring some of the simpler steps they could take.

With its free bike schemes etc Paris is trying to look like it is playing the green card, but in fact paying nothing more than lip service to what they perceive as a passing trend.
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Written by Ben Cooper , August 22, 2009
In the past Paris has been famed for having innovative and beautiful architecture but has produced little of interest over the past 50 years. These projects are technologically and ecologically very avant-garde. Let's also hope that they have the aesthetic appeal of La Grande Arche or La Tour Eiffel and not attract the criticism which came with the construction of La Tour Montparnasse (or as some call it, the Death Star)
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Written by attipscast , August 22, 2009
I have never been to Paris but it has always been on the list of places I'd like to visit. Now, it seems, I have even more of it I need to see. I wonder when we'll be able to take this green building technology and affordably scale it down to use within individual residences?
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Written by Sionday , August 21, 2009
Wow, I live in Paris (admittedly on the other side, but still), and I didn't realize this plan was taking place at La Defense. Very good to know. And hopefully it will catch on! (And I think there are examples in Manhattan now - isn't the Empire State Building undergoing a massive green renovation?)
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